With the proliferation of the internet, it seems that we are increasing the number of people who realize they live in glass houses. For example, I recently listened to a podcast about a woman who has come to the forefront of the hardcore punk music scene for her feminist and #metoo efforts. She sings about the experiences of women in the hardcore punk scene. But then she was outed as having, back in high school (years before), once laughed at a picture someone else shared online of a naked woman who was a fellow student. And her role as advocate came crashing down. The culture of accountability she had worked to develop held her accountable.
I have seen this play out in a dozen different ways. People destroyed by the thing they created is an old motif. But I have two thoughts that keep coming to mind regarding this. They are both philosophical and as yet I offer no practical answers.
First off, don’t we all have skeletons in the closet? I am sure few of us can claim to have always been nice to everyone. And, I am sure a few of us (maybe even most of us) have things we would go back and do differently if we had the chance. I think of the things I did when I was young and first got into the military. Now I am old and charged with handling young troops who make those same mistakes. Does that make me unqualified or more qualified to handle them?
Let me say, that I am not talking about people who rant against drugs and then secretly go home and do them. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the young man who once dropped a dead mouse through the sunroof of another unit’s NCO that he didn’t like now being tasked with passing judgment on other young people’s behavior. I’m talking about a guy who once was president of a fraternity that got in trouble now being in charge of enforcing university policies on fraternities. I’m talking about people protesting better treatment of immigrants who are or were probably biased against people of color at some point in their life. I’m talking about a woman leading a feminist movement who once did something mean to another woman.
It is as if our collective culture believes “only he [or she] who is free of all sin may judge” (or advocate).
Second, aren’t we supposed to learn over time? I can say with a lot of reflection that I am not the same person I was 20 years ago in at least a dozen developmental and intellectual ways. In fact, most 25 year olds aren’t the same person they were 10 years before. When someone has made mistakes in their past, but learned from them and shows remorse for them, when do we let that go? In this case, let’s jump to the other end of the spectrum and look at our criminal justice system and culture. If someone robs a bank, we put them in jail and expect them to learn their lesson by the time we let them go. But they are often labeled a criminal the rest of their life. Luckily for them, there are a lot of ways to hide this most of the time. Sex crimes, due to online databases are a lot harder to hide, and result in a permanent label.
My initial conclusion is that we don’t really believe in learning or forgiveness. We don’t really believe that anyone (other than ourselves) is any different of a person as they grow older. We seem to think that what you did as a teenager is still who you are. What you did in your early 20s (especially if it was in the internet age) is always subject to discovery and being used against you. Most people don’t really believe that people change.
I believe they can.